Top 5 PowerPoint Mistakes You’re Making

Presentation matters. You could be the smartest person in the room with all the best content – but when displayed poorly, your message suffers. Why jeopardize the content you’ve carefully created by not applying the same level of care to your PowerPoint design?

It’s important to note that from a graphic design perspective, there are a slew of preferred creative tools and programs for presentation design. But considering accessibility, convenience and user-friendliness, it’s no surprise that PowerPoint is the tool we most often see our clients using – and expecting our account teams to use as well. Especially when creating decks for people outside your organization – like clients – to easily edit, PowerPoint is the logical, popular choice.

Unfortunately, a profusion of poorly designed decks has accompanied the ubiquity of PowerPoint – filled with clip art, charts, clashing fonts and way too many bullets. To help you avoid graphic mistakes that muddle your message and make your audience cringe, we’ve put together a list of the top five mistakes you might be making and what to do about them. You’ll thank us later.

1. Using pre-loaded templates – or no template.

Yes, a consistent look and feel is important in an effective presentation. But resist the urge to click on one of the generic templates that come with the software. It’s a missed opportunity for your brand, and really, you can do better on your own. Instead, use the Slide Master (View > Slide Master) to create your own template tailored to your content. Design a few basic layouts: a section title slide, a content slide with images, a content slide without images and an image-only slide. You can approach them more as guidelines than law, but consistency is important in making the various parts of your message feel cohesive, and structure lets your audience know where each slide fits into the big picture.

2. Including too many fonts.

We know it’s fun to experiment with different fonts, but in this case it’s crucial to practice restraint. Select three fonts, tops, for your entire presentation: one for titles, one for body copy and one for accents. Make sure those fonts complement each other – even better if they come from the same family. Also, just say no to Comic Sans. And Vivaldi. And Papyrus.

3. Suffering from color confusion.

If you’re presenting about a specific brand, use those brand colors – and double-check to make sure they’re the correct ones. There’s nothing worse than being nearly on-brand but missing the mark. If you’re not limited to specific brand colors, choose five colors (including one accent color) that reflect the tone of your presentation. Color Hunter is a great tool for finding and creating color palettes inspired by images.

4. Oversharing.

You’ve worked hard on your content, down to each detail, so it can be tempting to want to include every bit of it in your presentation. When it comes to visual presentations, however, “less is more” couldn’t be more true. Keep the number of words and images to a minimum, and maintain a clean, simple layout that your audience can digest easily. You don’t want your audience to be so distracted by trying to read and decipher your slide that they miss what you’re saying. Consider which content is necessary to display to express your idea and which can live in the notes section for you to share aloud.

5. Abusing and misusing images.

Images can make all the difference. They can enhance your message, create visual appeal and make your presentation memorable – or they can distract and clutter. The list of things that can go wrong with images is extensive … For the love of sanity, don’t use clip art. Don’t stretch or squeeze images to make them fit a certain space –  your audience can tell. Don’t use too many images on one slide. If your slide contains text, it’s best to stick with one image – three at most if the layout is carefully balanced. Don’t use blurry images. Most importantly, consider the purpose of the image: how does it support – or detract – from the point you are trying to make? You can find free, high-quality stock images on

For a deeper dive into design principles and techniques for effective presentations, check out Garr Reynolds’s book Presentation Zen Design.